The Cross Compact -- Hot 2015 Trend

By Frank A. Aukofer, December 27th, 2014

American drivers are notorious for their aversion to station wagons and hatchbacks, overwhelmingly preferring standard four-door notchback sedans, sport utility vehicles, and crossovers. But those configurations are popular in Europe and the rest of the world so there are plenty of them around.

Manufacturer photo: The 2015 Trax is Chevrolet's seventh small vehicle launch in four years, a diverse lineup that's seen the brand's share of the small-, compact- and mini-car segments more than triple.
Manufacturer photo: The 2015 Trax is Chevrolet's seventh small vehicle launch in four years, a diverse lineup that's seen the brand's share of the small-, compact- and mini-car segments more than triple.

There are three nomenclatures at work here: Hatchbacks are similar to sedans, but are usually squared-off a bit such as the Ford Focus, where the hatch substitutes for a trunk lid. However, some hatchbacks, like the luxury Audi A7, are almost indistinguishable from sleek sedans.

Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are tall wagons with truck-like body-on-frame construction, usually with rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. Crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) are similar except that they use car-like unit body construction and generally come with front- or all-wheel drive.

The buying trend has been moving away from SUVs, which tend to be heavier and less fuel efficient though more capable off road and for towing, and toward family friendly CUVs, especially in the compact class. Compact and midsize crossovers are overtaking midsize sedans as the biggest sales category.

Compact crossovers include the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Acura RDX, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Crosstrek, Jeep Patriot and Compass, Infiniti QX50, BMW X1, Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Volkswagen Tiguan, and Lincoln MKC.

Manufacturer photo: The 2015 Trax is Chevrolet's seventh small vehicle launch in four years, a diverse lineup that's seen the brand's share of the small-, compact- and mini-car segments more than triple.

Essentially, manufacturers are now delivering what once might have been considered small wagons, but avoiding the stigma of the name by simply calling them crossovers. The difference is that they are a bit taller and available with AWD, as well as FWD.

A prominent new example is the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA, which was classified as a truck/utility by the independent North American Car of the Year organization, which consists of 60 automotive journalists.

But the GLA is a tall luxury four-door hatchback and its garage mate, the GL45 AMG, is a sports car based on the same body style. Another new hatchback, the Porsche Macan, also qualifies as a sports car.

Similarly, these three vehicles are hatchbacks that have been unilaterally classified as crossovers. Start with the 2016 Honda HR-V, which slots into Honda's lineup just beneath the CR-V crossover.

Though called a crossover, the all-new HR-V is actually a hatchback alternative version of the entry-level Honda Fit, which unabashedly identifies itself as a subcompact entry-level economy car. However, its generous interior space gets it a midsize classification from the federal government.

Manufacturer photo: The 2015 Trax is Chevrolet's seventh small vehicle launch in four years, a diverse lineup that's seen the brand's share of the small-, compact- and mini-car segments more than triple.

One of the attractions of Honda's recently redesigned Fit hatchback is its versatile interior system, which allows reconfiguring of the seats and cargo spaces to carry a variety of items from ladders to tall potted shrubs.

No surprise, the new HR-V, with its more stylish bodywork and available AWD, carries the same system and will include much the same mechanical underpinnings as the Fit.

Similarly, the new 2016 Mazda CX-3, except for a slightly taller stance, isn't all that different from its sibling, the Mazda3.

The 2016 CX-3 crossover vehicle is based on the same platform as the Mazda2, which is the company's entry-level economy car. Dimensionally, it is 14 feet long, a foot shorter than the Mazda3 compact hatchback. But it is almost 4 inches taller, lending credence to its CUV designation. The cars will share powertrains.

Then there's the 2015 Chevrolet Trax, an offshoot of the Buick Encore. Introduced as a 2013 model, the Encore is another hatchback that masquerades as a near luxury crossover; the new Trax is the Encore's company cousin.

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